If the RPG genre were a group of third-graders, Metal Saga would be the scrawny, shy one who cracks wise on occasion - usually to hide his own self-consciousness. While that may be preferred to the kid who frequently slips his nose-picking finger into his mouth, it's still quite a ways from the head of the class.
Metal Saga's post-apocalyptic world isn't too different from most digital dimensions you adventure in: people are hurting, monsters run rampant and everyone is waiting for a hero. Freelance hunters attempt to clean up the mess, but their loyalty to the almighty gold piece means they're no saviors. Still, like your father before you, a hunter's life is your dream. Take up whatever arms the town's shopkeep has for sale, hotwire a junked tank and embark on a quest to save the world.
It's a clichéd story, to be sure, but Metal Saga's writing is funny enough to compensate. Almost everyone you meet tosses out a snarky line of text, and most will force you to crack a smile. Fleshed-out character personalities balance out the generic artwork and dull graphics. You'll be compelled to save the world not out of duty, but because you know everyone will have an interesting comment to make about it.
Nobody said being a hero was easy, but few games tax your patience with such monotonous gameplay. Metal Saga's combat is so old-school, it's wearing a dunce cap. Battles are turn-based affairs with very little in the way of ingenuity, and they're annoyingly frequent. While the monsters look unusual, they're slow and predictable in attack. Your party's not much better, and options are slim. About the only unusual mechanic is splitting your time between fighting inside a vehicle and on foot.
Tanks play a large part in Metal Saga. Once you find a ride or two, you can pimp them out with upgraded parts and weaponry - just make sure you mind the load restrictions. They're obviously more powerful and have more impenetrable defense than your guy just standing there trading blows with monsters, but mechanical parts are susceptible to breakdown, which can really throw a wrench in your plans. These tanks aren't as fun as piloting mechs in other RPGs - for example, they control just like walking - but you'll covet the gimmick, since it's really the only unique twist combat has going for it.
Believe it or not, what's most enjoyable about Metal Saga's gameplay is the retro way items are hidden all over the place. So few games do this nowadays. While the fact that you find some uber-obscure things that will take hours to discover a use for may hamper this a bit, it's still enthralling to comb every inch of real estate to see what you come across.
These days, an RPG really needs to excel in at least one area to get noticed. Shadow Hearts: From the New World has an innovative battle system and quirky characters; Grandia III has superb combat and slick production. Metal Saga has ... a few one-liners. It possesses no traits to make it stand out among the current role-playing crop - or even the bulk of RPGs from a decade ago. Let this clunker rust.